SINGAPORE - First came the Under Armour Sportsmask in June. Then the Asics Runner Face Cover in July. Since their release, sports masks have been a topic of curiosity and controversy for their daring promise to keep one safe while exercising.
On one end, experts warn against potential asphyxiation when working out in a mask. On the other, sneering detractors point out the logical fallacy of being allowed to exhale heartily, unmasked, during exercise. Do the body's water droplets somehow attain immunity during a gym session?
Research suggests that face coverings help to contain droplet transmission or infection spread through exposure to virus-containing respiratory droplets from an infectious person. Some masks like surgical ones, however, are more protective than others.
Both brands advertise the masks as designed for maximum breathability while reducing the spread of the wearer's droplets.
The Straits Times' Clara Lock and freelance fitness trainer Samuel Tan put these controversial pandemic creations to the test.
Asics Runners Face Cover, $55
The idea of a mask that will not choke you while running intrigues me.
But because my scarily unfit self cannot walk up a flight of stairs without wheezing, I enlisted freelance fitness trainer Samuel Tan (@samueltgk), 23, to do the dirty work for me and review the Asics Runners Face Cover ($55).
When we reconvened, Mr Tan has tried it thoroughly. The good sport wore it during a steady jog, high-intensity runs and even bodyweight workouts.
"As a first-timer wearing a mask to jog, I think that the Asics mask is very comfortable and felt non-existent," he tells me. "It fits just right on my face and the adjustable straps at the back made it easy to wear. The mask is made from mesh that enables it to hold its shape even after countless hand-washing."
According to a fact sheet, strategically placed air vents on this face cover created specifically for runners provide unobstructed airflow while preventing the spread of droplets.
The mask's curved design, said to create more room inside for easier breathing when running, achieves its desired outcome with this keen reviewer.
"What I like about this mask is the fact that I was able to breathe comfortably while running. There is a space between the inner wall of the mask and my face, so it doesn't trap heat from all the constant exhaling," Mr Tan says.
To my scepticism, he replies: "I didn't feel suffocated during the run as there was plenty of breathing space - it doesn't stick to your face while you breathe. I ran for 5km and never once felt that I was unable to breathe properly."
And would he wear it again in future workouts?
"Definitely - for any form of workout."
Well, all right then.
The Asics Runners Face Cover is available at this website.
Under Armour Sportsmask, $35
I long for the day when mask wearing is a thing of the past.
How we used to take fresh air for granted! These days, even when I am not thirsty, I sip from my water bottle for the briefest chance to breathe unencumbered.
So it is with some apprehension that I pull on the Under Armour Sportsmask for a workout.
It is touted as offering better airflow, a secure yet comfortable fit and innermost fabric that is both cooling and antimicrobial. The nose wire is moldable without being rigid and the soft straps are gentle on my ears.
The whole thing feels thick and plush, like wearing a pillow on my face. Certainly comfortable if I want to lay on my cheek for a nap, but will I be smothered during a workout?
I start with a low-impact, beginner-friendly outdoor yoga class, where mask-wearing is not mandatory.
Within the first 15 minutes, I spot the first droplets of perspiration on my mat while holding a plank pose.
Even so, breathing comes easy. The structured design means my lips and nostrils never once graze the inside of the mask. Inhaling is close to effortless.
When the hour is up, I even have to remind myself to remove the mask during savasana, or the final resting pose.
So far, so comfortable. I amp it up with a high-intensity interval training workout from the Nike Training Club app.
Again, the mask feels great during a low-impact warm-up, and even during bicycle crunches and oblique twists during the core-focused component.
But when plyometrics, or jump training, kicks in, it becomes harder to catch my breath. Brief spells between sets of jump squats and jumping lunges - meant for rest - become a race to slow my pounding heart.
The air grows warmer with each exhale. Finally, I give in and remove the mask. Sweet relief.
As a comparison, I do the same workout with the first reusable fabric mask issued by the Government in April.
Although flat and much thinner, it plasters to my nostrils and mouth and my breathing grows even more laboured. I last all of five minutes before pulling off the mask.
At $35, the Under Armour Sportsmask does not come cheap, but far outperforms masks that are not made for sports.
It is a worthy investment for an added sense of security as gyms and fitness classes grow more crowded, or while doing semi-strenuous activities such as rock climbing, where a mask is mandated.
Perhaps, like me, you might also forget to take it off when you're done.
The Under Armour Sportsmask will be available at this website and at stores from next Friday.